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Washington Report February 10, 2017
10 Feb 2017

Washington Report February 10, 2017

Trump Just Lost, BIGLY … It’s Day 22 … Bleak Outlook for Quick Action … Sit Down and Shut Up … Rock, Meet Capitol Hill place … GUT EPA … From an Effective Watchdog to a Toy Poodle … Send Your Resume to Reince … Kellyanne ‘Counseled’ … and other news of the week.


Joyce Rubenstein
Capstone National Partners


TRUMP JUST LOST, BIGLY The Fix “President Trump has been on an 18-month winning streak. That streak ended Thursday night when a federal appeals court upheld a lower-court ruling lifting Trump’s travel ban on refugees and all visitors from seven predominantly Muslim states.“The Government has taken the position that the President’s decisions about immigration policy, particularly when motivated by national security concerns, are unreviewable, even if those actions potentially contravene constitutional rights and protections,” read the unanimous ruling of the three judges. “There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.”

Trump reacted angrily via Twitter: @realDonaldTrump SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!

What’s Next?

Lawyers for the Trump administration could appeal the decision to the Supreme Court and ask it to reactivate the ban. The high court tends to defer to presidents on matters of immigration and national security, which could give Trump the advantage going in.
Here’s the problem. Since the death last year of Justice Antonin Scalia, the nine-member Supreme Court has been one member short. Many see the remaining eight justices as ideologically divided, 4 to 4. If the Supreme Court deadlocks in a 4-4 tie, Thursday’s decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit will stand and the travel ban will remain on hold.”

-Donald Trump, candidate

IT’S DAY 22 But as he heads into his third full week in office, Trump is discovering even the most powerful job in the world has limits. “Republican allies in Congress are grumbling about not being consulted. Foreign leaders are refusing to buckle to his bluster. A rebellion is brewing within the emboldened federal bureaucracy. Meanwhile, his own aides are bickering and providing the news media a steady stream of leaks about palace intrigue. The establishment that he vowed to blow up is more potent in practice than it seemed when he was making it his political foil during an election season. Trump’s difficulties come partly from the constraints faced by all presidents in a system in which there are three branches of government … a far different environment from Trump’s previous career running a family-owned real estate and branding empire. The question now is whether Trump will adjust in the face of the institutional and political realities or continue to maintain his imperious posture.”


WHY CONGRESS WILL BE JAMMED UP Politico “If feelings in the Senate remain this contentious, business will remain slow and keeping government functioning will be nearly impossible this year. Consider this week. Republicans will have ended four contentious confirmation battles: Betsy DeVos as Education secretary, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to be attorney general, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) to be HHS secretary and Steve Mnuchin to be Treasury secretary. But the following positions remain unfilled: Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, EPA, HUD, Interior, Labor, Small Business, Veterans Affairs, OMB, director of national intelligence and U.S. trade representative. This could slow the Senate down for weeks, if not months. So the process will continue to be gummed up. President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can complain all they want about the tactics — but Democrats can scream “MERRICK GARLAND,” reminding them they did the same to President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee.”

DEMOCRATS UNDER INTENSE PRESSURE from their base to oppose Trump, his policies and nominees — a Politico/Morning Consult poll showed this week that more than half of Democrats want Democratic lawmakers to stand up against Republicans. Only time will tell if that calculation proves politically fruitful. But if Democrats continue to delay nominations, they will also slow the GOP agenda. Republicans will have to keep government funding by April 28, lift the debt ceiling by the spring or summer and pass a supplemental spending bill that will include billions for the Pentagon and Trump’s border wall. Those three items could be incredibly time consuming. On the House side, there will be delays as well. House Republicans will be especially eager to load up spending bills with policy provisions advancing their agenda — they tried, but mostly failed, to do that during the Obama presidency. Put quite simply, don’t get your hopes up. The prospects for quick action on Obamacare, tax reform and infrastructure look bleak.”

SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP The Hill “Late Tuesday night, a female United States Senator — Elizabeth Warren (D – MA) — was told to shut the hell up by the all-male Republican Senate leadership.
Really. She was.
It happened late in the evening as the Democrats were holding the Senate floor for 24 hours to highlight to the American people what a poor choice Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) is for the powerful position of United States Attorney General. Warren had taken to the Senate floor and read part of a letter Coretta Scott King wrote accusing Sessions of suppressing black voters (this was after Democrat after Democrat talked about Session’s abysmal record on protecting the rights of minority communities in several situations … and his dreadful record). The Senate GOP voted to force her to stop speaking because she was using her time to criticize a fellow senator.”

JEFF’S IN SESSION theSkimm “Wedensday, the Senate confirmed Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to be attorney general aka America’s lawyer. A longtime Alabama senator and former Alabama AG. He was one of President Trump’s earliest supporters and became one of his advisors on the campaign trail. He’s known for being tough on immigration and has said he’ll make fighting terrorism a priority. As AG, he’ll be in charge of the Justice Department. Meaning he’ll be responsible for defending Trump’s immigration ban and investigating things like police misconduct. WHAT DO SUPPORTERS SAY That he’s a “man of honor” who’s very qualified to defend U.S. laws. And that it’s unfair to keep bringing up decades-old accusations. Sessions himself also vowed during his confirmation hearing that he wouldn’t be a “rubber stamp” for everything Trump wants to do. Congress always gets along famously. On opposite day. But recent cabinet confirmations have made the relationship between Dems and the GOP even more contentious than usual, and exposed a political showdown that’s showing no signs of stopping. Rock, meet Capitol Hill place.” ALL TIED UP “Tuesday, VP Mike Pence put his finger on the scale to give Betsy DeVos the Education Secretary job. The Senate held a vote to confirm DeVos. They were tied 50-50. The VP is head of the Senate, and has the tie-breaking vote in cases like this. So Pence’s ‘yes’ clinched it. This was the FIRST TIME a VP has ever stepped in to confirm a cabinet nominee.”


GOP BILL TO GUT EPA The Hill “A House Republican is sponsoring legislation to do away with large portions of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), including environmental justice and greenhouse gas programs. Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) introduced the Wasteful EPA Programs Elimination Act on Thursday, saying it would save $7.5 billion annually. That would leave the agency with a budget of less than $1 billion. Major EPA climate change programs would be eliminated under the measure. The legislation would also close all of the EPA’s regional offices, halt new regulations on ground-level ozone pollution and require the agency to lease unused property. The legislation differs from a bill introduced by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) this month that would completely eliminate the EPA.”


FROM EFFECTIVE WATCHDOG TO TOY POODLE WonkBlog “A Republican plan to dismantle Wall Street regulations would strip the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau of many of its powers, including eliminating its consumer complaint database and scaling back its enforcement abilities, according to a five-page memo distributed by Rep. Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the powerful House Financial Services Committee. The memo obtained by The Washington Post offers the first peek into Republican plans to ease regulations big banks have been subject to since 2010’s Dodd-Frank Act. Sent to other members of the Financial Services Committee on Monday, it outlines changes to legislation Hensarling (R-Tex.) initially proposed last year, known as the Financial Choice Act. That version of the legislation was immediately denounced by advocacy groups; it is now being revised in light of President Trump’s call for sweeping changes to the way the financial system is regulated. … Hensarling is likely to have enough Republican support to get legislation through the House, but it is expected to be a tougher battle in the Senate. “The Hensarling proposal would transform the bureau from an effective watchdog into a toy poodle,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), ranking Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, said in a statement.

Banking industry officials, especially those representing big banks, have also been skeptical of making significant changes to Dodd-Frank. After spending years and millions of dollars adapting to the new rules, industry officials say they would rather make small tweaks to the law, some of which could be accomplished through regulators, rather than pursue a protracted battle in Congress for new legislation.


ELIMINATE FEDERAL ELECTION ASSISTANCE COMMISSION USAToday “In a little-noticed 6-3 vote the House Administration Committee voted along party lines to eliminate the Election Assistance Commission, which helps states run elections and is the only federal agency charged with making sure voting machines can’t be hacked. The EAC was created after the disastrous 2000 election in Florida as part of the Help America Vote Act to rectify problems like butterfly ballots and hanging chads. (Republicans have tried to kill the agency for years.) The Committee also voted to eliminate the public-financing system for presidential elections dating back to the 1970s. Thirty-eight pro-democracy groups, including the NAACP and Common Cause, denounced the vote. “The EAC is the only federal agency which has as its central mission the improvement of election administration, and it undertakes essential activities that no other institution is equipped to address,” says the Brennan Center for Justice.This move is particularly worrisome given reports that suspected Russian hackers attempted to access voter-registration systems in more than 20 states during the 2016 election. Moreover, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration set up by President Obama in 2014 outlined an “impending crisis” in voting technology and the Brennan Center found that 42 states used voting machines in 2016 that were at least a decade-old and at risk of failing. The EAC was the agency tasked with making sure these voting systems were both modernized and secure.”


PIPELINE ON AGAIN “The US Army Corps of Engineers said it’s going to approve the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) after all. DAPL is the controversial oil pipeline project that runs across four states. It also sparked months of protests last year … the local Standing Rock Sioux tribe and its supporters say the pipeline could destroy sacred sites and contaminate the water supply. Under the Obama Administration, the Army Corps decided the pipeline needed to find a different route. Then President Trump took office, and he feels differently. Last month, he told the Army to put the project back on the fast track. Here we are. The tribe has said it’ll take the US government to court if the pipeline gets approved.”


SCOTUS WATCH NYTs “Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, privately expressed dismay on Wednesday over Mr. Trump’s increasingly aggressive attacks on the judiciary, calling the president’s criticism of independent judges ‘demoralizing’ and ‘disheartening.’ … Judge Gorsuch expressed his disappointment with Mr. Trump’s comments about the judiciary in a private conversation with Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, as he paid courtesy calls on Capitol Hill to build support for his confirmation.” DEMS NOT LIKELY TO FILIBUSTER President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch will likely be confirmed to the high court since Republicans control the Senate and Democrats may want to hold their powder until the next Court opening. But, Americans’ initial positive reactions to his nomination are another reason for Gorsuch — and Trump — to be optimistic about his confirmation chances. In several polls conducted this month, Gorsuch received net positive ratings for his approval. He had a +13 point net approval rating among Americans in a Gallup poll, the same as in a CNN/ORC poll and a CBS News poll. In a Quinnipiac poll, Gorsuch received a +20 point net approval of his confirmation among registered voters.”


SEND YOUR RESUME TO REINCE! Politico “The White House has gone without a full-time communications director since Trump was sworn in last month, and although chief of staff Reince Priebus is spearheading a robust effort to fill the position, his overtures to several Republican communications professionals have been met with disinterest, according to a half-dozen sources with knowledge of the situation. At least two candidates have turned down the job, a position normally coveted by Washington political operatives … Trump’s unusual involvement in crafting his own message — and his insistence on doing so from his perch in the West Wing — poses a challenge for any aide whose responsibility it would be to shape the narrative arc of his administration. ANOTHER REASON NO ONE WANTS IT [Steve] Bannon has also privately dispatched one of his aides, Julia Hahn, to push stories into the news — in effect directing a communications shop that, at least in the administration’s early days, has been operating on a parallel track.”


CONWAY ‘COUNSELED’ WashPo “It’s not every day that you hear a retail advertisement from the White House. But that’s exactly what happened Thursday when Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told a TV audience to “go buy Ivanka’s stuff.” HOUSE OVERSIGHT WANTS ETHICS REVIEW Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) (Chair and Ranking on House Oversight) sent a letter to the Office of Government Ethics yesterday, raising concerns about Kellyanne Conway’s promotion of Ivanka Trump’s clothing line. The White House has expressed support for Conway.

SPIN-MASTER The Fix “Whether it’s arguing for “alternative facts” (read: “not facts”) or simply attempting to spin the news in ways that are positive for the new administration, Kellyanne Conway has become the undisputed cable news voice of the Trump White House — and, in a way, Trump’s voice on cable networks. Listen to almost any one of her interviews, and you’ll hear a phrase along the lines of, “What the president was really saying is. …”But sometimes, what that really means is, “What I wish the president had said is. …” She’s Trump’s explainer-in-chief. That’s an easy enough job when the news is positive. But when the news looks bad for Trump, her explanations generally come in two forms: spinning that negative news in a positive light, or outright deflection. It becomes a particularly difficult job when she’s asked to explain Trump’s tweets, which often come at strange hours and can be incendiary, sometimes setting the day’s or week’s conversation. Check out the video.


TRUMP’S OBSESSION WITH CABLE TV The Fix “… what’s become very clear … is that Trump a) watches massive amount of cable TV and b) regularly reacts to it and borrows ideas from it.Twelve minutes after he saw a supportive blog post about the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on Morning Joe, Trump tweeted it out to his 24.5 million Twitter followers. (OOPS … Trump calls court’s decision ‘disgraceful’ by citing this blog that actually says it was right.) Even if you are a Trump ally — as many people the AP talked to clearly are — it’s hard to see the amount of cable television he consumes as a good thing. Presidents need to be aware of the circumstances in the country and the world, but using cable news as your primary source for that information likely isn’t the best move. A president simply can’t be reactive to every jibe that is thrown his way on 24-hour news networks. If you spent your days responding to what people said about you on cable, you wouldn’t have much time to do anything else.That’s the point Trump’s advisers seem to be making to him — albeit unsuccessfully — according to the AP story.
The reality is … Trump has spent a lifetime using cable TV as a sounding board. He believes he learns from it and benefits politically from reacting to it. No adviser is going to dissuade him from those habits simply because he is now president of the United States. In Trump, we have the first president of and for the cable news era. He’s obsessed. He’s not changing. And he’s not sorry.”


PAGING ‘HOUSE OF CARDS’ SEASON 5 theSkimm “Wednesday, Alexei Navalny — a Russian politician who’s running for president – was found guilty of embezzling from a timber company. Navalny was seen as one of the only candidates who could’ve challenged Russian President Putin (who’s expected to run for re-election) in next year’s race. Nyet an option anymore, since Russian law says convicted criminals can’t run for office. To which a lot of people are saying ‘sounds a liiiitle too convenient for Putin.’ This ruling comes a few years after a judge already found Navalny guilty in the same case. But the European Court of Human Rights stepped in and said ‘nope, not a fair trial.’ So he was let off the hook. But then Russia’s Supreme Court ordered a retrial. And now he’s been found guilty again. Navalny says he’ll appeal and isn’t giving up his campaign.”

TRUMP DEFENDS PUTIN, AGAIN WashPo “Trump has done nothing since he became president to suggest that he believes in American Exceptionalism, which every president before him has taken as gospel. The Donald often talks like he thinks the United States is just another country on the U.N. roll call — somewhere between Albania and Zimbabwe. Over the weekend, he once again played the dangerous game of moral equivalency.
— In a Fox News interview, Trump said he respected Vladimir Putin and hopes to get along with Moscow. Host Bill O’Reilly pressed: “But he’s a killer, though. Putin’s a killer.” To which the president replied: “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country’s so innocent?” HARD TRUTH Every time Trump talks like that, he undercuts America’s moral standing in the world.


TO TRUMP FROM David Brooks (conservative columnist) “If you could give Donald Trump the gift of a single trait to help his presidency, what would it be? ” Click here.

WashPost “[Some] reporters say the leaks reflect a certain degree of chaos within the new administration, with factions warily circling one another. ‘I tend to think chaos begets chaos begets chaos, and that’s what we’re seeing here,’ said a reporter familiar with some of the senior players. But others see the leaks as whistleblowing — an effort to expose Trump’s initiatives before they become policy. Of course, the leaks could also be trial balloons launched by the administration … Neither Trump nor his top officials have challenged the veracity of any of the major leaks. But reporters say such information needs to undergo the journalistic equivalent of extreme vetting: ‘Reporters want to understand the motives [of the leaker] and the context of what’s leaked so that you’re not just simply becoming the handmaiden to someone’s private agenda,’ said veteran White House and national security reporter David Sanger. ‘You have to dig into it and ask questions about it, starting with, ‘Why am I seeing this?’”


A KENNEDY IS RUNNING FOR GOV OF ILLINOIS The Fix “Chris Kennedy, son of the late Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy, announced this week that he is running for governor in Illinois. He’ll attempt to unseat embattled Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) in 2018.How this plays out for Kennedy could be a test of how powerfully the Kennedy name still resonates, and it could even shape what the Kennedy dynasty looks like going forward. The Illinois governor’s race will be one of the first truly competitive races for a Kennedy in years. If he wins, Chris Kennedy will be one of the most high-profile Kennedys in the nation.Kennedy is the first big name to enter the race on the Democratic side, but he’ll likely have to clear a competitive primary that may include equally wealthy businessmen and members of Congress. Democrats see the Illinois governor’s race as one of their best pickup opportunities after Republicans tied a 94-year-old record in 2016 for most governorships.” (The current governor, a billionaire Bruce Rauner (R) won election in 2014 and has had a troubled first term. The state’s credit rating has been downgraded and Rauner’s approval rating is in the 30s.)

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